My regular readers know that I am not a profligate photographer. It comes from having learned photography with Polaroid cameras. (Their motto: "Costs as much as 4x5, but a lot smaller!") My 35mm phase lasted barely two years before I migrated to medium format. That encouraged me to retain my conservative habits.
I make a lot more (too many, really) digital photographs each year than I did film, but I'm still not a heavy consumer of those electrons.
I own five 4GB cards, which is enough to hold about 1200 photographs from my Olympus OM-D. That's far more than I will ever make in any one session or trip; it's more than I make in many six-month periods.
Nonetheless, when Best Buy had 8GB cards on sale for four dollars apiece a few weeks back, I grabbed two of them. And, three days ago, when Mike alerted us to the 16GB card sale at B&H [now even cheaper —Ed.], I bought two more cards. I gave Paula two of my 4GB cards for her new camera, but I still, in the span of a month, I've gone from 20GB of photo storage to 60. That's about 3500 photographs. Considerably more than I ever make in a year.
What possessed me to buy all this additional storage?
Three weeks ago, I was photographing the Flying Karamazov Brothers Fortieth Anniversary Show (above) for the boys, and I made a lot (for me) of photos—something like 700 over the course of two performances, plus a series of posed photographs for publicity. I actually needed three of my five memory cards. That's never happened before (damn that ten-frame-per-second burst mode).
I did the unthinkable. I overwrote one of the cards during the sessions. Make that 525 photographs instead of 700. Augh.
I have no idea how I managed to do that. I'm sufficiently aware of the risk that I have three levels of protection against it built into my modus operandi. First, whenever I pop a new card into the camera, I momentarily flip to review mode to see what's stored on the card already, before I erase it. Second, whenever I take a card out of the camera, I set the file lock switch on it and don't reset it until I've offloaded the files into my computer. Third, whenever I take a card out of the camera, it's stored in a different location from the unused cards.
Somehow I managed to override all three of these security blocks. I'm going to blame it on alien influence or demonic possession. Your choice.
I got away lucky. The card I overwrote contained part of one of the performances. There was some really great stuff in there I'm sorry to have lost; it was overall the better set of photographs from the performances. But, I had full coverage from both performances, so there are no holes. If I'd overwritten the card with the posed publicity photographs, there'd be no way to make up for that.
If I'd had a 16GB card in the camera, none of this would've ever happened. There'd have been no card-swapping on site, no chance for me to overwrite earlier work.
The counter-argument to humongous cards, which I'd previously subscribed to, is the "all eggs in one basket" situation. A serious failure with the 16GB card would have cost me everything. But, I've never had that level of failure. I own a Swiss Army knife's worth of software that can recover files from just about any medium that's physically accessible, even if it's been "erased" or so corrupted that the operating system can't mount it as a drive. No, it won't protect me against physical damage or loss. But if I don't have reason to take the card out of the camera, I'm unlikely to lose it or damage it.
Life is uncertain. No working strategy guarantees against loss. But I've now had an unrecoverable failure in the first category, and I've never had one in the second. Consequently, I've decided that for extended photography sessions, it's best to have a big enough card in the camera that the possibility for handling errors goes away.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
Ctein, TOP's weekly columnist, appears on Wednesdays when all is well with the world and the hard drive.
Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Patrick Perez: "My theoretical solution to avoiding this type of handling error is to number all my cards and use them in ascending (or descending) order. Start a shoot with all the cards blank and you have a visual reminder of where you're at. Not a panacea, but another level of protection."
HT: "I went through the exact same thing while using a borrowed Nikon D700 and a handful of my own 2GB memory cards. Somewhere during a day of shooting, I inadvertently formatted a full card and began shooting over it. It was my first data loss in seven years of digital photography. Having reached the same conclusions Ctein did, I'm now using a 32GB card with my (very own) D700. So far, so good!"
Rick Kier (partial comment): "I like all my eggs in one basket, because the only time I've ever broken the eggs is when I'm juggling two baskets."